When we were in Marrakech (perhaps fifteen years ago) we stayed at the lovely Mamounia hotel. We had been told by friends that one must take a guide to see the extensive Soukh and so, despite our bent for going unguided, we did. [The wisdom of this advice was handily borne out the day after the tour with guide. I pride myself on my fine sense of direction. Just as we had with the guide, we set out from the hotel, down to the left, around the first bend, through the first archway to… a warren of narrow little pathways leading this way and that, completely undistinguishable from one another, not by shops – leather goods, colorful tshotshkes, thises and thats; not by topography – all led down a gentle slope; not even by smell – the redolent mix of coffee, leather, donkey and spices was persuasive in all directions. Immediate capitulation, back to the hotel. Another tour with a different guide to the ceramics factories and the tanning fields, the latter only bearable when carrying a sprig of mint held closely under the nose.] But I digress.
Our guide, tall and well spoken, led us down that road to the left of the hotel, around the bend and through an archway which looked like the way into the next street. Magically, however, we were in a large carpet store. Our guide stood at the entrance and started a lively conversation with someone in the store. An elegant keffiyehed and lavishly moustachioed gentleman in a flowing ivory bisht instantly met us as if we were long lost friends. “Pliz – some mint tea” he invited. We demurred, realizing that he was intending to sell these fool tourists a carpet. Both of us motioned that there was no carpet in our future. “Not wurry. For your eyes only,” quoth he. [this “for your eyes only” has become a refrain with us ever since].
We found ourselves sitting at a tiny tin table on a platform-like mezzanine and, indeed, hot mint tea was poured from an impressive height from a lovely brass teapot into a pair of ornately etched glasses. “For your eyes only,” our charmer repeated, standing next to us, as a pair of twelve year old boys wearing only thobe pants climbed atop a mountain of carpets and started slowly flipping over one carpet at a time so one of its corners met the middle of the opposite side. We watched, deliberately motionless, and never uttered a sound. “What color do you like?” asked Keffiyeh. We looked at each other as if English were Urdu. He repeated the question in French. No reaction. In German, nothing. Italian – niente. Spanish – nada. He asked what language might suit. I replied in Hebrew that I did not understand. He replied in perfectly passable Hebrew. Ok. The gig was up. We told him, in English, that there was absolutely no room in our house for a carpet and that we did not need one. “Not wurry. For your eyes only”.
Mint tea was ceremoniously sipped (leaves inconspicuously lifted off tip of tongue and deposited on the inside rim of the pretty glass), carpets were energetically, rhythmically flipped. Two statues watched the performance. Some fifteen carpets into the presentation, Keffiyeh quiety said “Aah, I see you like pink”. Had my pupils dilated a micron’s worth? Had I inhaled for a nanosecond longer than previously? Had one of my pinkies given me away? There ensued a classic ballet of Middle Eastern negotiations. [I had had much practice in this art: when I was a little girl – eight, nine, ten years old - in
, it had fallen to me to do the
elaborate orange-purchase dance with “our Arab”. “Moukh” – my name for mohammed
– would ring our doorbell on the third floor of our apartment building in Tel
Aviv. One of the five of us would open
the door and find him, all three hundred pounds of him, sitting cross legged on
the little mat at the door, holding up a banged up brass beam scale (the kind
Justice uses), a bunch of stones in one of its bowls, some oranges stolen from
the nearby Pardess (orchard) in the other.
Immediately I would be called to deal with him – I was not only the
bargaining expert but, because I could imitate an Arabic accent in Hebrew, he
understood me best. “Three for a Groush,( a Groush was one hundred Mils, ten
Groush to the Lira, or Palestinian Pound)”
Moukh would offer. I would
immediately close the door in mock insultedness. Promptly, the doorbell rang again, I would
wait the interval he needed to settle down again and hold up his scale. When I opened the door, the price was five
for a Groush. We then performed our
little dance of counteroffers, interspersed with his wonderful stories about
his financial woes: The wife had been an amazing bargain originally – she only
cost a horse and a little laundry setup, and what a find: she was huge with a bottom THIS big! But now, misery: the last gold tooth, her
third, was the last she was getting. If
the dentist finds another one was needed she would be sent back to her
father. Ultimately, the scale came into
play as I would propose that however many oranges fit into the one bowl to
offset the big and the little stones in the other one would be mine for a
Groush. So we ended up with eight to ten
oranges for a Groush, and he had a 100% profit every time.] Palestine
Back in Marrakech, when we finished our courtship of the carpet, I had gotten Keffiyeh down from 4,000 Dirham (a Moroccan Dirham is worth about 12 cents American) to 350 Dirham and felt so very proud of myself. (he was surely laughing up his loose sleeve, but for us the theater alone was worth it). Now he took us to the “expediting room” where a young boy with nut brown skin and liquid black doe eyes folded our purchase into a small package and offered to mail it home for us. “How much?” we asked. “Fifty American dollars”. “Surely you are joking,” we said. “We will mail it ourselves. Where is the post office?” a long explanation, in French, with all manner of names of plazas and turns ensued, a handle was put on our package, and we set forth to find the post office in the heat of the day. En route we stopped at a silversmith’s and bought a guaranteed unique scarf pin in silver and malachite for one of our daughters. Bargained it down to half its quoted price. five minutes later we passed another little shop which had the same pin in the window at the price I had bargained ours down to. At length, we arrived at the post office and there paid forty nine American dollars to mail home our carpet which, to this day, adorns my husband's office.